You are familiar with the ultimate compliment to a passer, that he can hit a gnat on the fly from 50 paces. Joe Theismann did it yesterday--to Alvin Garrett--in the Redskins' 31-7 victory over the Detroit Lions in the first round of the NFL playoffs.
Time after time, passes memorable for their precision arrived exactly where a Redskin shorter than many Redskinettes could clutch them. Garrett touchdowns were getting so common that hip fans were calling the east end zone at RFK Stadium Smurfville.
Cold-hearted football bottom-liners will insist, correctly, that the Redskins' defense won the game, that the offense merely made it a rout. Also, the Lions were mighty accommodating most of an afternoon that seemed more suited to the preseason than the playoffs. Still, how can you overlook a fellow as appealing as Garrett?
A herd of out-of-town scribes in search of hero Garrett strode into the Redskins' dressing room after the victory, spied a half-dressed squirt with some welts and made an abrupt right.
"Not me," said Virgil Seay. "I'm the taller Smurf."
How tiny is this fourth-string receiver who caught three touchdown passes? One of the lines being passed around the Redskins' dressing room was that Garrett, who is 5-feet-7, tried to give Rick Walker a high-five after Walker's touchdown catch against the Cardinals--and slapped him on the face mask.
"Naw," said the 6-4 tight end. "He hit me on the hand. But one of the Hogs, Russ Grimm, was hugging me, holding me on the ground. So Alvin skied up there and got me."
Fortunately for Garrett, he kept his wits after that third scoring catch. Had he pulled the same stunt again, he might have been drummed out of another prestigious club in the Nation's Capital. The Hogs still is the most exclusive, tougher to crack than the Cosmos Club.
The Fun Bunch is coming on strong.
That is the Walker creation that includes both Smurfs, Seay and Garrett, Charlie Brown, Rich Caster, Clarence Harmon and Otis Wonsley. Responsible for what passes for humor at practice and pregame warmups, the Fun Bunch decided to create an end zone scene to celebrate each playoff touchdown scored by a member.
"Our fans deserve it," Walker explained, "and so do we."
What happens is the gang gets in a circle, each player spreads his arms and crosses them near his chest. Twice. That's the sign, with emphasis, of togetherness. Then everybody does a team high-five. Seven hands are supposed to collide at the place a Maypole might be if this child-like fun were done by children on another playground.
Well, Alvin Garrett nearly spoiled the show. After his first two touchdown catches, he ran out of the end zone before the other Fun Bunchers arrived. What he did was leave the scene of the sublime. Which is a major sin.
"First time," said Walker, "we let it slide, cause it was such a big thing for him. We could understand how it might slip his mind. Next time, well it was his second. Still excusable. But we threatened him. Next time, don't forget."
Garrett was involved in what may very well be the height of NFL audacity. Or do you recall another team throwing a lob pass to a guy 5-7? Theismann sent Garrett sprinting down the left sideline from the Detroit 21-yard line early in the second quarter and lofted a pass a millimeter or so over Bruce McNorton's helmet.
The reception was Garrett's first touchdown, and second catch of the season.
It got better in a hurry: six catches in all, for 110 yards.
"First time I've ever had a chance like this," he said, "and really made good on it. I knew I might not get another chance."
Still, he was relatively calm.
"If I blew it today," he reasoned, "who were they gonna put in the game?"
Garrett is a special Redskin because he relishes special teams. He played regularly yesterday because Art Monk and Seay couldn't. Brown became Monk; Seay was supposed to become Brown, but he also was hurt. So Garrett became Seay.
Theismann thought those final two touchdown passes to Garrett, the other 21-yarder and the one from 27, had been overthrown.
"Perfect," Garrett said. "I like them kind of balls, where you can go get 'em."
After the New Orleans game two weeks ago, Garrett was on crutches.
"But the good Lord looked out for me," he said.
In the spotlight, he stayed humble.
"Football to me is special teams," said the man cut by the Giants last season, in part because he missed Mike Nelms on a punt return that set up a field goal by Mark Moseley in the Redskins' overtime victory. "I love special teams. Probably won't get a chance to play 'em much more."
Has Garrett in his wildest dreams ever seen such a scene as yesterday?
"Had some dreams," he admitted, "but this is the first time they've ever come true."
And what does all this mean?
Garrett kept his head. The man the Redskins look down at and up to, the man who wanted a chance in the NFL but only got it because of something sad to some others, the man whose margin for error is as slim as Theismann throwing at him, said, simply and eloquently:
"I feel like maybe I have a chance to make the team next year."